Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling
A/N: Written for the Minerva fest on LJ, after the following prompt by Kelly Chambliss: "Minerva, Pomona, and Wilhelmina go on a holiday outside the UK. What happens?" It was originally intended to be a a series of three letters from three days of travelling. My beta talked me out of the second letter to avoid too much detail ;o), and the third letter has yet to be written, due to nefarious circumstances caused by Muggles a.k.a. RL. My most heartfelt thanks go to my Beta TheRealSnape, for the great work and endless patience she had with my scribbling, to Shadowycat for general encouragement and additional typo-spotting, and to the fest mods for hosting this wonderful fest!
Characters/Pairings: Minerva McGonagall, Pomona Sprout, Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, Rolanda Hooch
by Alcina vom Steinsberg
Germany, August 1998
Thank you for your Owl from last Thursday, with all the news of the school and your last patients. I'm sorry to hear Severus had to endure another setback, but I'm confident to find him much improved upon my return; his innate stubbornness will see to that, if nothing else.
Thank you as well for your inquiry. Indeed, these two weeks off were just what I needed, and despite my harsh words (that I very much regret) upon leaving, I'm truly grateful for you forcing me to go off and take a break. Willa's open-armed welcome was a blessing, and her cottage is the perfect place for some respite from my duties and everything we went through this year. You remember my fears about my relationship with Willa, after that bitter argument we had some months back. Your wisdom proved once again superior, and our quarrel had indeed become irrelevant in finding each other alive and, in Willa's case, once more in good health. Despite the strong arguments we've had over the years, as well as our mutual stubbornness and sensibilities, I'm humbled by Willa's love and devotion to the complicated being I am and have always been.
But let's not elaborate on that; that's a story much better told face to face and over a nice cup of tea once I'm back at the school. Permit me to regale you with an entertaining – I hope – tale of how we spent the first day of a wonderful, albeit short trip to the continent.
You see, together with your pretty bird, Willa and I had visitors coming over with some nice bottles of wine and a suggestion. Where did you acquire such a beautiful girl on such short notion, by the way? I was so sorry about your Asklepia being killed in The Battle, as I know how attached you were to her. Does this have anything to do with Willa's smug grin when the owl arrived, and your suggestion to visit Willa in the first place? Scheming women, the lot of you!
However, as you might have guessed – or probably even know – Pomona and Rolanda showed up for a delicious dinner (thanks to Pomona, of course; remind me to not rely solely on Willa's cooking ever again), gorgeous French wine (thanks to Rolanda – she said she got it somewhere in Calais on a training flight. Imagine flying there just for shopping! Apparating would be much more sensible, don't you think?) and enjoyable talk. You were sorely missed, though, and we hope to see you in our midst the next time! I really have a bad conscience that you haven't been able to get away even for the smallest break, due to all the patients you still have to care for, while we were having such a good time. Yes, yes, I needed that break, we have discussed this enough, and I will need my strength for the coming school year more than ever before. That doesn't mean that I – we - wouldn't have missed you any less.
But back to my tale. I can't tell you how glad I am that you know me well enough to follow me on any narrative sidestep, so that I don't have to write in careful order, but can just pen away. It's much more fun like that.
For the love of Merlin I can't remember who came up first with the idea of a short trip, but suddenly there we were, all excited over a weekend of travelling to the continent and really getting AWAY from everything, as prescribed by our dear school matron. You know us well enough not to be surprised that we didn't find a common destination right away, but then Pomona had the loveliest idea.
You probably remember her grieving about that distantly related favourite uncle of hers who passed away last winter, Hippolitos Derrick Cogwheel, renowned inventor of magimechanic devices (and Arthur Weasley's great hero). It happens that he left her the most fascinating vehicle which came in very handy. A wobbly and near-splinchy group apparition later, yours truly was among a small crew of tipsy, giggly and enthusiastic old girls oohing and aahing over the solution to our little dilemma.
The vehicle itself began its life as some brightly painted Muggle camper-van of the Hippie era, unsuspecting from the outside, while inside, it really is a little brother to the Knight's bus. Did you know that the latter was invented and constructed by Pomona's uncle? I had no idea, and Pomona is understandably proud about it. Anyway, our little camper is nearly as large as a common wizard tent on the inside, and therefore perfectly suited for a short holiday trip. It's still a bit cramped, but there are three small sleeping rooms with bunk beds, a serviceable bathroom and a dinette complete with small kitchen.
According to Pomona, the camper allows two "travelling hops" a day, other than that, it's Muggle driving. She hasn't used it until now as she can't drive, but Rolanda surprised us with a Muggle driving licence (did you know that she is muggleborn? I never even guessed, and there I thought I knew her rather well), and she was confident to do the rest.
So we just needed to narrow down our list of destinations, as Willa could only get away for three days, pack some clothes and get going. We were so excited that we managed with surprising efficiency and without much debate, and early next morning saw us driving happily through the English countryside. Rolanda wanted to get the hang of the vehicle before we undertook the first travelling hop to Folkstone, as Pomona didn't dare to undertake a travelling hop over open sea. This has never been done before, and none of us was ready to serve as guinea pigs. Our original plan was to use that new Muggle tunnel, but in the end, the others found my reasoning in favour of the ferry more convincing. After all, nothing beats the feeling of distance and going to the continent like travelling over water, and spending half an hour underground without any chance of Apparating to safety simply holds no appeal to me. (Tell me honestly, my dear: am I really becoming a bitching old biddy?)
Debarking on French soil, Rolanda had to drive only a little distance until we could undertake the second hop that brought us to our first destination. We had agreed on Heidelberg and found a nice spot outside the city for Pomona's colourful heritage, a lay-by on the banks of the river.
Before entering the famous university town, though, we Apparated first to Schwetzingen, for Willa's Mag&Mug Tourist Guide for the Travelling Wizard recommended taking breakfast there. That we did, sitting on a sunny terrace just in front of the splendid baroque castle, regaling ourselves on strong German coffee, French croissants and a selection of fruits and cheeses that left nothing to desire. I wasn't aware Muggles could do so well without the advantages of any kind of Fresh-Grocery-Apparating-Service. It's truly amazing what they manage without magic.
You know Pomona well enough to be surprised that for once, she didn't pay much attention to the delicacies before her. She simply couldn't wait until we started for the famous castle gardens. Of course, Pomona and Willa were completely in their element. I don't know if you were aware that besides her love for anything on four to no legs and with fur, feathers or scales, Willa has a deep love for landscape architecture; and where Pomona delighted in every second plant or so, Willa got all dreamy-eyed faced with these extraordinary baroque gardens. She told us that they were in fact a copy of the famous but long-gone garden landscapes of Versailles and the Roi Soleil. However, contrary to Versailles, the gardens of Schwetzingen were redone in the original fashion, and even for us two non-gardening-nor-landscape-crazies, the visit was truly invigorating. All this playing with axes, angles and perspective was a pleasure to discover. I think Pomona didn't pay attention to any of these, as she had her nose continually in some blossom or other, determining species, properties and whatever else. We all were a bit disappointed, though, to find the magical part closed to maintenance. But well, this happens more often than not when travelling, and at least the magical part wasn't listed among the must-sees.
Noon found us relocating to Heidelberg, and what a charming spot we arrived at! A small, cobbled backyard not unlike Diagon Alley, opening on the one side onto some of the medieval street maze of the old city, and on the other side to the magical district of the town. The old city itself has a fascinating history (and no, I won't bore you with too many details, dear), and a large fire in some war of succession with the aforementioned French Royalty resulted in a baroque district erected on a medieval city plan. In consequence, large parts of the old town had a system of backyards, connected by small passages. The magical district occupies a considerable part of this backyard system and is therefore surprisingly large. Willa's Mag&Mug guide says it's supposed to be the largest magical district in Europe, but I doubt that.
Still, we came for the sight-seeing and to have a break from wizardry, and therefore chose the Muggle streets. Rolanda and Pomona were hungry again, so we combined some strolling through the charming alleyways with the lookout for anything suitable and finally found the ideal spot for us all: a small café at the town square, opposite the famous Heiliggeistkirche, with a great view of the castle, the church itself and a splendid Renaissance town house. My architectural heart delighted at these beautiful sights. The café offered not only just coffee but also tea of surprisingly good quality, and a lunch to everyone's liking. Now, normally, I would have loved to just sit and watch people, and enjoy the sunshine and the view, but our schedule was rather packed, and there were several promising book stores beckoning. As soon as Rolanda was finished, we left the other two to the rest of their meal and went for some browsing. Rolanda had a great time with the cinematographic section at the first shop, while the next-door one was specialised on European literature and had a surprising choice of titles in English language as well. I found at least two volumes I have wanted for ages, and when our partners finally came to fetch us, Rolanda and I both needed to make good use of shrinking and weight-reducing spells for our loot.
We decided to take a stroll through another part of the old town with a short stop at a famous chocolaterie, where more loot was added to shrunken pile in our pockets. Then we tackled the visit to the castle itself. Rolanda suggested we give the recommended climb a try, as it led over stairs and cobbled alleys up the hill and promised great views. I wish the guide had mentioned that this was not a climb for the relatively unfit, for halfway up, we all would have much liked to continue with Apparition, even Rolanda, who tried her best not to be seen puffing like the rest of us. She prides herself to be the youngest and fittest of us, which is, of course, justified – but even so, she is only a little bit younger, and the last months haven't been a good time for staying in shape either. Still, too many tourists had joined us on the climb, no corner for discreet disappearance presented itself, so we just had to go on and finally we were up, arriving at a corner of the former castle gardens. Faced with a truly breathtaking view over the old city, the river, its bridges and the opposite hills, we soon forgot the climb, and it's easy to understand why the view had been sung by many a famous poet. We had marvellous weather and a deep blue sky, and took our fill of the sun-flooded valley with all its marvels, long over and above the need to catch our breath.
On to the castle! It is really more of a ruin, with a few buildings remaining, most of them reconstructed. The largest tower had been blasted in half at some time, and it was a painful moment of remembrance for us all, as it looked so much like Gryffindor tower just after the battle...
We queued up dutifully for a guided tour, since those are mandatory, and had to wait only a few minutes for an English speaking guide. The guide knew his history well, and could answer all of the questions I had prepared, and even showed me lots of additional details of vestigial architectural decor.
Imagine our delight when, at the end of the tour, he asked the four of us to step aside with him, led us down to the vaults with the famous Heidelberg Tun, and to nondescript side-door. I had obviously slipped some wizarding name among my questions, which alerted him about our heritage, and he wanted to show us the wizarding part of the tour. We knew from Willa's guide about magical tours, but they are only available if booked in advance which we didn't manage in time. The Squib guide usually doing these therefore wasn't available, but the Muggle guide knew enough to show us some interesting parts. The highlight was the Library, of course. While its Muggle part was mainly either lost or transported to the Vatican after the disastrous succession war two centuries later, the Bibliotheca Palatina Magica still remains intact and in situ to this day.
I haven't ever seen something so splendid, not even in the Bodleiana Magica. I took great care to store some memories for later Pensieve perusal, as a special souvenir for Severus. I'm sure he would want to see this for himself. Since it's not possible to reach the library with magical means due to the wards, he would need to mount a considerable number of steps, which could be just the motivation for him to get on his feet again. And just wait until he hears about the alchemical vaults and the Pharmacy museum! We were too late for a thorough visit, just could do a fast stroll through several historical Pharmacies, reconstructed in the castle vaults, and see a part of the old alchemical laboratory.
Back to the books, though. Thanks to protection and preservation spells in the library, we were allowed to peruse some volumes to our liking, and now Pomona fainted over the New Kreutterbuch von Underscheydt, Würckung und Namen der Kreutter, so in Teutschen Landen wachsen by Hieronymus Bock, which has been said to be lost, and Rolanda fainted over a famous German manuscript from the 10th century, containing the first illumination of warlocks dismounting a broom as mentioned in the first chapter of "Quidditch trough the Ages". The manuscript was under a heavy protection spell due to its condition, but the illustration in question was displayed for all of us to see. Rolanda says that we were supposedly the first British Wizards to see this in the original, since it had been restored to the library only very recently, and even Whisp knew only a copy from the British Library. Poppy, I can't tell you how glad I am for Rolanda, particularly as we needed to cut her interests and wishes for this trip a little short, since most were too time-consuming.
We finished our visit to the castle with a stroll through the former castle gardens, situated on the large terrace where we had first arrived, and Pomona was happily telling us all she had ever read about the formerly famous Hortus Palatinus at this place. As much as I enjoy strolling through any existing garden, magical or not, botanically interesting or simply beautiful, I don't care too much for anything no longer there, where plants are concerned, and stayed behind on a bench with some of my new-found literary treasures, waiting for Rolanda who had Apparated on top of that split-in-half tower for a better view and some additional pictures. Yes, we're going to have quite some visual evidence of our adventures, as Rolanda was taking pictures right, left and center all the time.
We met again at my bench, and, since nobody else was around, just stepped behind a tree in turn, and Disapparated to our camper to change our shoes, to deposit our purchases, and to freshen up. Rolanda had a treat in store for us, as she said, and promised us a cinematic highlight in a pretty, old-fashioned theatre in the old city.
Well, we watched Casablanca AGAIN – just how often can one see that wretched movie? I really honour Rolanda's quirks as much as everyone else's, but do we have to come every single time if she wants to see it again? That was a rhetoric question, of course, you know well enough that we have. I really liked that film at the beginning, but after the seventh or eight re-watching I start to be just the littlest bit bored by it. Yes, dear Elsa, Sam will play it again in the end, thanks to your puppy eyes, and you will feel as sad as you felt every time before.
Sorry for that little rant, my dear, but I confess that I was a tad disappointed. I hoped to get a chance watching that much talked-about French film, 8 femmes, which was on in the same movie theatre and whose posters we had seen all over the town. It would have been such a treat to see dear Isabelle once again, even if only on the screen and despite our having lost all contact since. You remember this little fling I had with Madam Huppert during my time in Paris, do you?
Anyway, the others had a good time with Rick and Elsa, and we rounded the day off with another delicious meal in even more spectacular surroundings. This time, it was Italian, taken outside on the small square opposite the famous Old Bridge Gate with a gorgeous view over the illuminated river, and apart from the food, it was sheer joy to listen to Pomona discussing the merits of a certain brand of Aceto Balsamico and the way to prepare a perfect Osso Bucco with Willa. I think this was the first time I have felt normal again since the war.
Sated on architecture, culture, coffee, and Italian sweets, we returned to Pomona's charming little car and literally fell into our respective bunks like the dead.
I've spent a surprising good night and woke well rested and rather early, which gives me the time to pen this first day's report to you while my memory is still fresh. I'm starting to crave a decent cup of tea, though, as Pomona – or Rolanda – stocked lots of coffee and sweets, but only the most undrinkable kind of teabags. I think it's time to get the girls up and continue our little trip. Our next stop will be the botanical and zoological gardens of the Wilhelma in Stuttgart, followed by afternoon, evening and night in Strasbourg.
Take good care of yourself, my dear, and give Severus my regards. Don't tell him about anything else I wrote, though, as I would very much like to see his face when he hears!
A/N: I took some liberties with small geographical and historical details, where it suited me. The book by Hieronymus Bock is real, though, and its title in modern English would be "New Herbal about the Distinction, Effect, and Name of Herbs growing in German Lands". The other title Minerva mentions is, of course, "Quidditch trough the Ages" by Kennilworthy Whisp.